Rebecca Mason

Research title

Married Women and the Law in Scotland, 1600-1750

Research summary

The complex intersections between law, land, property and gender is beginning to receive due attention by historians. Even so, much is to be said regarding the involvement of wives in land management and the administration of property within a legal framework, especially when considering the unique position of wives during the early modern period in Scotland. Under civil law, married women in Scotland were not subject to the same limits of coverture as their English counterpart’s south of the border, and were granted the capability to retain a proportion of their landed and moveable property upon marriage. Through the retention of their own surname, the rights of their kin group were often equally important, and they could lawfully limit the extent to which their husband could administer and dispose of their joint marital property without seeking prior permission. When discussed in relation to property, married women are often homogenized and subsumed within narratives, and are often uncomfortably placed under the guise of their husband. Citing the legal constraints attached to the status of ‘wife’, there has been a tendency to over-emphasize their prescribed lack of legal agency when asserting proprietorship of their assets within the confines of the law, especially when considered in relation to the liberated ‘widow’. To redress this imbalance, the thesis will explain how women in the west of Scotland understood, accessed and asserted ownership of their marital property upon the formation of a marriage, during the management of the partnership, and finally, upon the dissolution of the union. By focusing on legal deeds, contracts, testaments and official administrative records deposited in civil and ecclesiastical courts in the west of Scotland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the thesis will provide the first in-depth analysis of the issues facing Scottish wives in relation to their ability to manage their real estate and moveable goods, both independently of and alongside their husbands, and will explain how wider societal and political developments often affected their ability to retain control of these assets over time.


I have published book reviews in Women's History ReviewScottish Historical Review and the Journal of Family History. 



AHRC PhD studentship, 2015-2018
Ross Fund Award, 2017
SGSAH Doctoral Internship Award, 2017
SGSAH Collaborative Doctoral Training Award, 2017


Co-organiser of 'The Communities and Margins of Early Modern Scotland', 20-21 October 2017

Co-organiser of 'Parenting and the Law' workshop, 22 May 2017


History 1A: Scotland's Millennium 1000-2000

History 2B: People, Things, Ideas: the Making of Modern Societies, 1500-2000